Remembering Jerry Van Dyke

Van Dyke

Actor Jerry Van Dyke died at his Arkansas ranch, on Jan. 5, 2018, at the age of 86. According to his wife Shirley Ann Jones, his health began to deteriorate after a car accident in 2015.

He is most known for his long-running role as Luther Horatio Van Dam on the ABC sitcom, “Coach.”

In 1962, he made an appearance in a two-part episode of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” as Rob Petrie’s wannabe comedian brother Stacey. He is the real-life younger brother of Dick.

He did not have the success early in his career that is older brother had. Instead, he supported himself with a banjo-and-comedy stage act in between roles. Van Dyke had a good-natured sense of humor about his failures. In 1994, he told The Associated Press, “If I had it all to do over again, I definitely would have turned things down. Almost everything I did!”

He began his comedy career in bars and strip clubs throughout the Deep South. Eventually, he became a regular on the Playboy Club circuit. Then, he became a dependable opening act in Atlantic City, Las Vegas, and Lake Tahoe.

In 1952, Van Dyke kept the troops laughing when he joined the Air Force. He performed in Special Services shows and won a military talent contest, which earned him a couple appearances on the “Ed Sullivan Show.”
After his tour with the Air Force, the young comedian found a regular role on “The Judy Garland Show,” in 1963. He also emceed a game show called “Picture This.”

Van Dyke built up his comedy career through the 60s as a happy-go-lucky stammerer and a klutz. He turned down the role of Gilligan in “Gilligan’s Island” for an equally silly role in “My Mother the Car.” While “Gilligan’s Island” took off, Van Dyke had to live down starring in one of the most berated shows of all time.

The show aired on NBC in 1965. Van Dyke played the role of a man who purchased a car that is possessed by his dead mother. The voice of the mother was portrayed by Ann Sothern. The plot revolved around his attempts to keep his secret from his family and keep an unscrupulous automobile collector from acquiring his spirited car.

He joked with People magazine saying, “I became known as the guy who did the worst show in the history of television.” According to TV Guide, it was rated the second-worst television show.

In 1967, Van Dyke played a nightclub comedian in “Accidental Family.” In 1970, he co-starred in the drama “Headmaster” with Andy Griffith. He played a physical education teacher. He also co-starred with Griffith in the film “Angel in My Pocket.” None of these roles helped Van Dyke’s career. However, he refused to give up.

Television success came in 1989 when he landed the role as Luther Van Dam on the ABC sitcom “Coach.” It was on this long-running show Van Dyke received a steady paycheck and four Emmy nominations.
In his 70s Van Dyke could be seen on ESPN tournaments playing poker.

By Jeanette Smith

Sources:

IMDb: Jerry Van Dyke
The News-Castle: UPDATED: A life remembered: Jerry Van Dyke, 1931-2018
The New York Times: Jerry Van Dyke, ‘Coach’ Actor and Foil for His Brother, Dick, Dies at 86

Image Courtesy of Alan Light’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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